I was aGraphic Design Efficiency Expert for an eCommerce brand a few years ago…Here’s what I found…
Back in 2018, a catalog company that sold gift baskets, sweet treats like chocolates, nuts, meats and cheeses, and other gifts needed a design overhaul. I was hired as a freelancer to take over their seasonal catalog design. Create a clean, precise layout for over 50 pages and set it up for the marketing department as a template so they can easily keep the designs in place and accurate. Aside from that, I oversaw all new photoshoots for their products.
Now if you were just a consumer of this magazine you may have noticed that previous Halloween or Christmas issues looked outdated, but you may not have been able to put your finger on why…
I was hired in early Spring to re-brand the business – then re-do the Halloween and Christmas catalog. This project was penciled in to take 4-6 months. It took 1 month.
I was surprised when I got there that they already had a small team working on these upcoming Summer versions of the catalogs while I worked on the future catalog for Halloween and Christmas seasons. Why did they need me?
Their team of 8 was full-time while during my time there. I worked only 15 hours or less a week. They got paid 3x less than I was per hour. Of that team of 8 the Creative Director and 1 other employee actually had a graphic design background and a degree in Graphic Design. The Creative Director up to this point was really the only one tackling any creative projects with success as the rest of the team felt overwhelmed (or so they said).
So given that the projects were completed 3-5 months early, the Creative Director felt embarrassed that she had clearly scheduled out a project based on her current team’s efficiency. She felt bad I wasn’t going to have as much work anymore so she asked me to be a sort of undercover Efficiency Expert and get to know her staff. This is not something I usually do. Nor did I enjoy this as I end up looking like a bad guy who just waltzed into their company to snitch on their team.
I haven’t talked about this story as it always feels like a brag. But I recently have been getting asked by many companies who already have small design teams to take on over-flow projects and subsequently the rest of their team’s projects. Here is why a freelancer designer might get more done than your staff and why the catalog company was lagging behind.
The #1 issue I see always in companies like this is the staff’s training. The world of Graphic Design careers has changed drastically in the last decades. In the 90’s a graphic designer was a rare employee. A hard find to employ. Many companies hired people to teach them basic software skills for their business’ marketing or design needs. However, they never taught basic principles of design or urged them to keep up with design trends and new knowledge. You’ll find older companies staying loyal to employees who have been using design software for a decade or two, but never having professionally designed anything yet. I’m all for employee loyalty, but at what point is an old dog not going to learn new tricks?
9-5 Workplace Culture
In the era of COVID I’m glad more businesses are finding the 9-5 workday is not efficient. Think of it. You get in at 9am, chat with co-workers for a bit and then settle in. By 10am you’re starting to work, but by 11am you slow down as to not get too far into something before lunch. 1pm hits if you were lucky enough to get an hour lunch break and now you have to get back into the rhythm you were in before. And then that dreaded 3pm energy crash hits. In a poll done in 2019, 89% of employees produce little to no work from 3pm-5pm for this reason. Now math isn’t my thing, but if you’re a full-time 9-5 employee that’s 2-4 hours of quality work in an 8 hour workday… No wonder your team isn’t where it should be.
While at their department location, I often looked like some kind of weirdo introvert as I didn’t want to chat with them for 15 minutes a day about myself. I’m not here for that. I have a job to do so I get paid and my client is happy. I’m not an employee, however, so I got to come and go as I please – often working more either before employees came in the morning or after they left for the day. I get no benefits and have a contract and a deadline. But I’m a happier creator compared to them and my client was happier with me than their team of 8. I don’t work 9-5. I sometimes don’t start my day until 11am! I rarely end my day at 5pm though as well. As a freelancer, you are paid more to get it done faster and better.
Wages vs. Hourly Rates
So let’s talk about that…
Say your employees are getting $15/hour in the graphic design department. They take home a $1000ish check every 2 weeks for a fourth of the output (refer back to that 2-4 hours of quality work they are getting done each day).
Now as a freelancer — I get paid $30/hour for 15 hours a week. If we take the catalog project for example; I got paid $1800 for the project (plus a bonus for early completion) so let’s round that up to $3000. The project was completed ahead of time vs. leaving it to their team for 6 months which would have cost them $96,000, in the end, to pay their employees to only do this project and being that very few of the team had graphic design skills, that $96,000 could have left the company with a poor quality catalog still.
How to Fix This
Now if you’re reading this as a business owner you can see why hiring a freelancer may be more beneficial. But what about a business owner who already has a team they don’t want to fire just to pay less and get more?
What could you do?
- Invest in Graphic Design Training for your non-trained Graphic Designers
- Re-Organize Your Current Team into other positions and hire skilled Graphic Designers or a Freelancer to take up the slack
- Re-Organize your Workplace Culture:
- Pay More
- Be More Flexible w/ Your Employees Hours (ex. If an employee can work 8 quality hours from 6pm-2am at home…let them!
If you’re a startup wondering who to hire and what team members you need onboard first, start with a freelancer. I’m always happy to take on more happy clients at Unglitch.io and happy to show you where to get the more bang for your buck!